Cooking up an Anglo Indian stew

Jan 10, 2015, 06:30 IST | Fiona Fernandez

For a few months now, Cheryll Tucker and Richard Young have been piecing together the lives and times of Mumbai’s Anglo Indians, for their documentary, The Forgotten Stew

"It's a long, long way to Tipperary,  But my heart's right there!..."

It's past noontime. We're seated inside a Bandra flat at the inaugural shoot for The Forgotten Stew, a documentary on Mumbai's sparse Anglo Indian community. Hazel Branch, the 95-year-old school music teacher, chides her accompanying guitarist, cartoonist Keith Francis that he's gone off-key as they sing out the Jack Judge classic — a favourite singalong tune at family get-togethers. We're in splits.

Helen Branch, the 95-year-old music teacher, enjoys spending time with her students;
Helen Branch, the 95-year-old music teacher, enjoys spending time with her students

The wonder years
Wit intact, Branch jogs her razor-sharp memory with nuggets of nostalgia from the 'good ole' days, as scriptwriter and producer Cheryll Tucker eases her into an informal Q&A session. "I remember the lamplighters passing by our streets at 7 pm. It was a sign for us to stop playing Catching Cook or Aatya-Patya, and to return home, like good children!" Branch's father worked at the Bombay Port Trust and the family lived in Wadala, in 'lovely quarters'.

Richard Young, director and cinematographer
Richard Young, director and cinematographer

"Tea time was a ceremony; the sitting room would be opened only in the evenings when we would wait for daddy to return from work (by then, we had to have our baths). The butler would roll in a tea tray that contained sandwiches, a teapot, the works," reminisces Branch. Five minutes into the shoot, Tucker realises that the gregarious great grandmother needs no more prodding. Or even retakes.

The sound of music
When Branch was four, she contracted cerebral malaria; so her parents decided to enroll her in the cooler, cleaner environs of St Peter's boarding school in Khandala, her alma mater till Junior Cambridge. "I was clever, but mischievous, and didn't need to study much. Mum always felt I was 'playing the fool'! I got through with honours for my Senior Cambridge exams while at Kimmins High School in Panchgani," she adds, with a twinkle in her eye.

Later, she joined St Mary's College in Poona and went on to become a KG teacher. "I loved music; I was gifted but I think the Anglo Indian streak got the better of me," confesses Branch, when she recalls her undying love for music and playing instruments like the piano. The only other love she speaks fondly of, is her late husband. Lost in thought for a bit, she snaps out of it with another song, "Charlie is my darling — the young cavalier..."

Who am I?
Due to their mixed gene pool, Anglo Indians were faced with a unique dilemma post-Independence: to stay back or migrate to the UK or later, Australia. "Bombay was a mass of lights. There was great rejoicing on August 15, 1947. My family was happy. However, I recall how some Anglo Indians were upset. I didn't care much about them." She continues, " know, we could have so much, had we blended more. After all, we had the best ethics of the Indian and the English, rolled into one. I'm very proud to be Indian, not Anglo Indian. In my heart, since I was a child, I never liked being called 'Anglo Indian'. We might call ourselves Anglo Indian but haven't we lived in India all our lives?" she asks.

Having lived through the glory days and the current fadeout, Branch worries that the community might not survive for too long due to intermarriage and migration. "It's inevitable. But those who are around, must use their gifts well; with our education, our talent in music and dance, we can be the best," she maintains. "Right now, I feel blessed, with my beautiful children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. I can't ask for more at 95," says Branch as Tucker calls it a wrap. We can't wait to watch Mumbai's oldest Anglo Indian set the screen alight when The Forgotten Stew hits the film circuit.

Cheryll Tucker, scriptwriter and producer
Q.Why did you decide to work on this documentary? Was it a sudden instance that propelled the process or did it emerge as a long-carried dream?
A. I enjoy watching documentaries of communities and of ethnic groups. It's when I felt the need that the Anglo Indian community should be known nationally and globally, too. The last census of Anglo Indians left in India was done in 2012 (Internet) and the number was 80,000 to 1,50,000. We are a minority. Many in Mumbai, especially the younger generation, is unaware that such a community exists. The community had contributed a lot to society, especially in the field of communication, like the Railways, Ports, Post and Telegraph, teaching, nursing and the hospitality industry. It is dedicated to the memory of the entire community: parents, grandparents and those pioneers, our great-grandparents who were adventurous and open to taking risks. It is for the future Anglo-Indian generations, as a memory and to educate them about the community.

Cheryll Tucker speaks to Helen Branch during the inaugural shoot.  PICS/  SHADAB KHAN
Cheryll Tucker speaks to Helen Branch during the inaugural shoot. Pics/Shadab Khan

Q. How did you zero in on Richard Young to man the camera for this unique, sensitive project?
A. I have worked with Richard Young on several projects. He has done similar community- based projects. He inspired me to do this documentary. His father, Joseph Young, was working for the Railways so Richard shared many stories from there — dances at Byculla Mechanics, to the Anglo Indian English, which was engaging.

Q. What background research did you need before rolling out?
A. We sourced information by interviewing people, the Internet and from public libraries.

Q. What about funding?
A. The documentary is self-funded as this would give us freedom to work.

Q. Once complete, how will you promote The Forgotten Stew?
A. I would like to exploit all media options like the web, TV and film festivals to bring awareness about the community.

In The Forgotten Stew...
>> Apart from profiling Branch and other Anglo Indians from the city, the documentary will include Stephen Francis who started his music career in the 1960s. A versatile musician, he plays lead bass drums and sings. He is looked up to among Malad's young musicians. Lenny Lawrence also began playing music in the 1960s. He migrated to Australia but came down during Christmas in 2014, for Orlem Music Nights that was held in this buzzing neighbourhood of Malad.

Stephen Francis
Stephen Francis

>> Also featured in the documentary are cartoonist Keith Francis, his wife, Valerie (works in a school) and their sons Graham (a law student) and Hayden (creative director in an advertising agency), and Milly Greene D'Souza (former singer with Laz and the Music Makers, who would play at Gaylords, Churchgate).

Lenny Lawrence
Lenny Lawrence

>> Stills from the Anglo Indian Association (Mumbai) events and of Blossom Lilywhite, president of the association, will also feature in it.

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